Ringing in the New Year with Iron Flowers

Spectators around China celebrated New Year’s Eve in a cascade of sparks, embracing an ancient Chinese folk art

1 0
2:06 PM HKT, Thu January 4, 2024 2 mins read

On December 31, 2023, clusters of molten iron were thrown into the air in multiple cities across China, scattering into a spectacle of sparks that danced across the night sky. The enchanting embers then descended like a shower of golden blossoms, only to ascend again with another hit, leaving spectators in awe of their beauty.

The display is a Chinese traditional folk art called datiehua (打铁花), which literally translates as “striking iron flowers.” Explored and developed by ancient Chinese blacksmiths, datiehua techniques and styles vary across regions. A prominent folk entertainment activity for festivals and celebrations, datiehua is growing increasingly visible in popular culture.

New Year’s Eve was illuminated by dazzling iron flowers as performers skillfully manipulated wooden planks or sticks to hurl 1,600-degree molten iron. Large crowds gathered in cities including Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Changsha, and Zhengzhou to witness the molten iron fireworks shows welcoming the New Year.

One highly anticipated celebration unfolded at Unique Henan: Land of Dramas, a gigantic immersive theater complex in Zhengzhou, Henan province. The iron fireworks gala drew more than 10,000 event-goers on New Year’s Eve.

Its sensational visual appeal, along with historical and cultural significance, has propelled datiehua to rapid popularity among young people in recent years. The hashtag “Datiehua” (#打铁花) has racked up 95 million views on China’s Instagram-like platform Xiaohongshu. Netizens hail the artistic tradition as a “Chinese-style romance,” with the hashtag “Datiehua is a romance, Chinese-style” (#打铁花是属于中式的浪漫) accumulating about 84 million views on China’s Twitter equivalent Weibo.


Posts regarding “datiehua” on Xiaohongshu.

Many younger people were introduced to datiehua through its appearance in the hit 2018 historical drama Story of Yanxi Palace. In the show, it was prepared by the emperor’s consort as a surprise to please the empress dowager on her birthday.

In June 2023, datiehua became a legitimate online craze. The soaring attention arrived when a female content creator, who goes by Jiang Xunqian (also known as Jiuyue, meaning September), posted a seven-minute video showcasing how she learned to master datiehua under the guidance of Yang Jianjun, the representative “inheritor” of Queshan datiehua, a branch of datiehua from Queshan County in Henan province.

Queshan datiehua has a rich history dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and was officially recognized by the Chinese government as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2008.

Jiang’s video went viral across China’s major social media platforms upon its release, garnering more than 25 million views and 2.7 million likes on the Chinese video site Bilibili. It also gained nearly 900,000 likes on Xiaohongshu and 5.92 million likes on Douyin, the Chinese sibling of TikTok, among other platforms.

“I had many holes in my clothes, some minor scalds, and my hair was singed, but it was all worth it,” Jiang said.

Worries have also been voiced by netizens regarding the safety of the performers, who are directly exposed to the scorching heat emitted by the molten iron. Some performance attendees claimed to have felt the intense heat from the sparks, which resulted in minor damage to their clothing or hair.


The animated film Hua Jiang Hu: Tian Gang features “iron flowers” scenes. Screenshots via Weibo.

Datiehua were also featured in the Chinese animated film Hua Jiang Hu: Tian Gang, which was released on December 29, 2023. This timely exposure helped draw a broader audience to New Year’s Eve performances.

“The iron fireworks at Xihu Yintai were so spectacular, although my sweater got burned,” said a Xiaohongshu user who enjoyed a performance in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Cover image via Weibo (Unique Henan: Land of Dramas)

Join the Conversation
Write comment

Frustrated? Maybe stop looking at a screen and go ou